༺ The Lord Is With Us (21) ༻
Elsie had always been small since she was born.
While the Rinella family was renowned for their magical prowess, they were also famous for their dignified appearance. Among her seven siblings, Elsie was the only one with a petite frame.
Even if slender frames were taken into account, there were still only two of them – herself and her younger brother Lupine. They might have received more affection had they grown up in a common family, but that was not the case for the Rinellas.
The world of high nobility was heartless and unsympathetic.
They were people who utilized even their families in their political agendas. There were no exceptions when it came to successions either, and every child was groomed to weather any slander they might face as they grew older.
There was no such thing as sympathy for the weak, and as a matter of course, Elsie grew up ignored and subjected to beatings.
She was aggrieved by the unfairness of it all. Although she wasn’t even 10 years old at the time, she was exceptionally bright to know it was not her fault for being born weak.
If she had to point fingers, the fault would fall on her parents. Yet, even they didn’t protect her. Instead, they went a step further by condoning all the bullying she suffered through.
It was a common way of life for the high nobility to sort out the hierarchy between siblings as long as it didn’t cross the line, but Elsie had found it deeply upsetting.
Elsie grit her teeth every time her older siblings bumped into her and laughed while calling her a midget. Sometimes, they even hit her.
Living in such a harsh environment, tears oftentimes streamed down her cheeks. She was as soft on the inside as her body suggested. She was a small, timid child, but she knew that she couldn’t live like this while only enduring all the maltreatment.
Her pent-up anger fueled her determination to get back up. She swore to remember every little thing.
The Rinella family was a household of mages, and for mages, their innate physical ability was insignificant in their arduous pursuit of the truth.
Elsie, the clever girl she was, understood that a small body and weak muscles amongst other similar things were useless and that true talent resided in intellect and mana.
And so, she secluded herself in the library.
Her siblings’ continued harassment couldn’t stop her bitter motivation to improve, and within a few years, the disdainful glances transformed into envy and admiration.
Elsie gained admission to the Academy, where talented individuals from all over the world gathered to learn, and even began to stand out for her talents.
Both the Rinella family and the Academy prioritized those with exceptional talents.
Soon enough, her treatment within the family improved beyond recognition, and she even attracted a group of followers within the Academy.
After gaining power, Elsie only had a singular goal.
Revenge. To exact rightful vengeance for the grudge etched deep in her heart.
Elsie repaid the same pain she had endured in the past. No, she went above and beyond that. She refused to be ignored by anyone ever again.
Even then, a subtle fear lingered within her heart — A fear that they might use their anger as motivation as she had.
She wondered what she would do if they grew stronger and returned to seek revenge.
As both a victim and assailant, she knew that such a situation was not entirely impossible. This led Elsie, a timid, fearful girl at her core, to resolve it with even fiercer aggression.
She decided to break their spirits so thoroughly they would never even entertain the thought of opposing her.
It was an ironic situation. Her cruelty stemmed from anxiety. Her fear that things might return to how they were in the past gradually changed her for the worse.
The sole exception to this cycle of violence was her younger brother, Lupine.
He had also been neglected and mistreated alongside herself for his slender frame, and had always followed her around while calling her ‘Elder Sister’.
Elsie cherished Lupine. She made it her duty to protect him ever since she suffered all sorts of sorrows and harassment during their childhood.
That was why her footsteps were particularly heavy the day she heard a low noble had dared to touch her brother.
The boy looked like a prince. He was tall and his lean muscles were firm but not too bulky.
With black hair and golden eyes, he had an impertinent attitude. He even had the nerve to keep his junior out of the fight.
He wasn’t bad at all. Elsie favored strong people like him. His unwavering strength was something she’d lacked, and thus, yearned for all the more.
That was also why she liked breaking strong people like him.
It was the only way she could know if he was only pretending to be strong.
She wanted to affirm that everyone was weak in the face of excessive violence, and found solace in the fact that she wasn’t the only weak one.
She thought it would be the same that day as well.
But everything changed when he picked up his hatchet.
It was a terrifying surprise attack. In the brief moment she averted her gaze, screams pierced the air, and blood splattered everywhere from behind her, and before she could even fully comprehend the situation, he was already sprinting towards her.
Even so, it was too late for the boy. She was no stranger to battles and she successfully shielded herself.
She had thought the fight was concluded at that point – that regardless of how many tricks he had up his sleeve, she mistakenly believed his abilities were insufficient to defeat her.
So she was shocked when she was tackled to the ground with her shield and all.
Mana scattered like shards of broken glass under the hatchet blade with every swing. And under his assault, Elsie could only scream helplessly on the ground.
It didn’t take long for the shield to break.
When she finally regained her senses, Elsie felt for the first time in a long while. All she could see was the hatchet raised high in the air.
She recalled her childhood of when she was still weak.
The situation had turned around and was now coming back to haunt her. Like an absorbent cotton, Elsie’s mind soaked up her trauma and transported her back to those days when she was still timid with fear.
It was scary.
And so, she apologized, admitting her mistake and accepting her defeat.
She was able to endure the humiliation. All she had to do was return the favor in the future. It was something she had already done several times before.
That was what she was thinking until he opened his mouth.
“Senior Elsie, what did you say just now?”
The man coldly stared down at her with his golden eyes after single-handedly carving out a path through the group with only his blade and a hatchet. His unwavering gaze sent shivers down her spine as she froze up.
His eyes genuinely seemed to want to inflict raw violence upon her.
It was what Elsie had been afraid of – someone she had dismissed as being weak returning the violence she unleashed upon others each day.
Elsie had witnessed countless individuals devastated by pain and violence. The moment she imagined herself in their position, the facade of cruelty she wore crumbled to pieces.
She was terrified. He even looked like he intended to kill her, and if he did, there wouldn’t even be a chance for her to seek revenge.
Elsie Rinella’s life was in danger of ending right then and there.
Without leaving a trace.
So she begged. To spare her. That she was wrong. But even then, the man’s eyes did not fluctuate in the least.
Then, the hatchet descended, its blade glinting with light.
Elsie squeezed her eyes shut as tears streamed down her face. Such was the essence of the girl named Elsie.
Cowardly, weak — the self-deprecating words she had hurled at herself countless times as a child resurfaced.
She didn’t want to die.
I shouldn’t have pretended to be strong. I should’ve been more patient and honest instead of needlessly provoking him.
It was at that very moment that she heard the sound of a blade swiftly slicing through the air.
Elsie’s trembling eyes turned to the side. The hatchet was lodged right beside her head, and she nearly wet herself on the spot.
She gazed up at the man with teary eyes. Like before, she couldn’t find any emotions within those golden eyes.
“…….There won’t be a next time.”
That was the moment Elsie broke down.
Following that day, the contempt towards her resurfaced much like during her younger years.
She fought back desperately. She sought out those who dared to speak ill of her and crushed them with even more cruelty to show she was still one to be feared and not trifled with.
Yet, the belittling voices persistently followed her around like a shadow.
She was scared. She didn’t want to relive her childhood.
The life-threatening event from that day, mixed with nightmares of her childhood, covered her mind in so much fear that it felt as if both her mind and heart were suffocating in mud.
Ian Percus, she was terrified of him. Extremely so.
So, when he approached her again, Elsie wanted to cry and escape. She didn’t want to follow him. However, the fear that grew over numerous sleepless nights had already ground away any thoughts of resistance.
Her heart raced and her legs gave way as soon as she caught a glimpse of the hatchet. In the presence of the hatchet, Elsie collapsed onto the floor, forced to revert to her old self.
However, there was one thing that changed for her.
It was the warmth of having her hair stroked. The comfort and security that she had never received as a child.
Elsie went back to being the weak girl in the past whenever she saw the hatchet. However, having her hair stroked provided her with a greater sense of comfort and solace than anything else.
She was fond of it. It was a feeling she thought she would never receive.
After becoming strong and gaining influence, everyone she encountered either sought to get closer to her for their own gain or looked at her with eyes filled with fear and hostility.
Now that she thought about it, the life she dreamt of wasn’t supposed to be something like this.
She simply didn’t want to be ignored, and now, she had no idea how it ended up like this.
It was around this time that she started hanging around Ian Percus.
Being around Ian was both embarrassing and exhausting, but she endured it through clenched teeth to finally settle the score with her rival, Delphine. And yet, at some point, the girl who had been sitting on a throne of power for a long time had lost her spiteful motivation.
Still, she comforted herself that everything was fine since she was strong and also a prodigy.
It was a miscalculation. She tasted yet another defeat in a sudden ambush as she was only able to watch helplessly as her comrades fell before her eyes.
She felt as if she had returned to her wretched childhood once more – a little girl who could do nothing but scream.
That was when he stood back up.
It was a miracle. He was covered in blood and battered all over. It would have been normal for him to stay collapsed on the ground, but he rose up.
Elsie could only watch with her mouth shut as he toppled Fermin, Olmar, Aisha, and even Delphine with a mysterious fighting spirit.
What she found strong wasn’t his physical power, but his mind and heart. It was a strength that she felt she would never possess.
She found him cool.
She found herself inadvertently admiring him. If she had previously conceded to him out of fear, she now fully accepted her defeat. It was both surrender and obedience.
Ian Percus was an existence standing above Elsie Rinella.
Once that notion was etched into her mind, Elsie worked tirelessly to earn his acknowledgment.
Even when ordered menial tasks and errands at the orphanage, she carried them out without complaint. And although she sometimes acted out to get his attention when she missed the warmth of his hands, she still listened to him well.
She longed for the love and acceptance she had never received from her parents, and she hoped that Ian would validate her existence.
That was why she felt even more upset. Her circumstances being what they were, she couldn’t forgive those who wronged her.
That was her way of life. Wasn’t that also how Ian had broken her in the first place?
Elsie wanted Ian to accept her. However, Ian didn’t take Elsie’s side simply because the other side was a child.
She had to be the bigger person just because they were a child?
Then what about her when she was a child? Elsie felt like crying. She felt frustrated. She felt aggrieved. She wanted to pound on his chest and plead with him.
To see how the little girl that was abused and neglected had grown up to exact vengeance for herself. That the opponent had to be trampled. That it was the only way she could protect herself from future harm.
Blinded by anger, she failed to see her surroundings, and in the very next moment, she found sharp, silver claws rapidly filling up her vision while glinting under the moonlight.
Then, the boy jumped in between her and the claws.
Blood gushed out as Ian crumpled to the ground.
The scene before her became fragmented as if it were a movie strip with each frame etching itself into her mind.
Before she knew it, she found herself whimpering and on the verge of tears, clutching onto the boy collapsed on the floor.
“A-Are… Are you… Hik… ok, okay? Hey, hey!”
The boy barely managed to open his eyes and gave a faint smile as if his injury was insignificant.
The memory of him in that bloody state tortured Elsie for a long time. His weak smile as he lay atop a pool of blood resurfaced whenever she laid in bed, whenever she shut her eyes, whenever she ate, and even whenever she was simply blankly gazing into the distance.
And every time, Elsie pondered one thing.
Why did he sacrifice himself to save her?
Wasn’t she a selfish and ill-tempered bitch? Someone who couldn’t even tolerate a child, the embodiment of violence, the ‘Loli Gangster’?
Elsie held affection for him. She admired him. She longed to be acknowledged by him.
But she, who had been cowardly since birth, couldn’t even begin to fathom risking her life for him.
In such a scenario, she would probably cry while frozen in fear. So, how was he able to throw himself into danger without hesitation?
She couldn’t understand. So when she heard that Ian woke up after two days, she moved her feet, one step after another, as if possessed.
But why was it that she couldn’t muster any courage once she stood in front of the door?
Her heart pounded and her palms grew sweaty as her hands trembled uncontrollably.
She struggled to make sense of the whirlwind of emotions surging from within her.
Then, she heard the boy’s voice.
At the soft voice calling her name, she peeked her head into the room. Golden eyes looked at her without a word.
The jovial atmosphere lighting up the room swiftly disappeared as if it were just an illusion, and in the next moment, she found herself alone in the room with him.
The world was filled with vastly different people. Many needlessly worried about others even when they weren’t doing anything dangerous, but that wasn’t the case for Elsie.
That was why she had to ask Ian the question that had lingered in her mind all this time.
“……Why did you save me?”
She regretted it the instant the words left her mouth.
It was a question that lacked a lot of things she wanted to convey – her apologetic feelings, her gratitude, and other pent-up emotions.
She groaned inwardly as even she thought she was being rude and ungrateful. Previously, she wasn’t as concerned about how he viewed her, but today, she felt overly self-conscious and worried.
However, contrary to her worries, he looked like he didn’t mind.
Instead, he nonchalantly responded to her thoughtless question.
Elsie’s eyes glazed over.
You can rate this series here.